Survey: How doctors, nurses’ strikes led to deaths

Doctors during a strike at Uhuru Park, Nairobi in 2017. [File, Standard]
Some 13 million more patients sought treatment from hospitals last year compared to 2017 when a crippling strike by health workers disrupted operations in public health facilities.

The huge surge in hospital visits last year compared to 2017 when doctors and nurses in public hospitals were on prolonged strikes could be a pointer to the many patients who suffered at home during the strike.

The total number of hospital visits increased by 31.2 per cent from 42.3 million in 2017 to 55.5 million in 2018, according to the Kenya Economic Survey 2019 released last Thursday.

This was an increase of about 13 million visits, the largest annual increment recorded in the last five years. This is attributable to the prolonged health workers’ strikes during the period.

During the period Kenya experienced a public-sector nationwide doctors’ strike lasting 100 days from December 5, 2016 to March 14, 2017.

This was to be followed by a nurses’ strike lasting 150 days from June 5 to November 1, 2017, making this a total of 250 strike days in a span of 11 months.

The survey also shows significantly higher number of registered deaths last year compared to the levels of death registration in 2017.

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Health workers

But in 2017, due to the strikes,’ more deaths than usual were registered as occurring at home than in health facilities.

The 2019 survey also blames a drop on child immunisation in 2017 to the health workers' strikes.

“The decline in the number of infants vaccinated in 2017 is attributed to the industrial action by the health workers,” says the survey.

For the first time in the history of the annual survey, it does not record diseases by deaths caused, but by their prevalence.

Going by the data, chronic disease such as HIV, cancers, diabetes, heart and mental conditions are not among the top 10 diseases taking Kenyans to public and private hospitals.

On top are illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema (thinning of air sacs), laryngitis, and influenza, which are grouped as ‘disease of the respiratory system.’

This disease represented almost 40 per cent of hospital visits followed by malaria 19 per cent, skin conditions, diarrhoea, urinary tract infections and pneumonia. Others include, accidents, rheumatism, intestinal worms, eye conditions while anything else is grouped as others representing 10 per cent of hospital visits.

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Nurses strikeDoctors strikeEconomic SurveyKNBS